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The Case for High-Res, Multispectral Aerial Imagery of Large Landscapes

At the Medallion Club near Columbus, Ohio, AES scientists used basic aerial imagery to detect places where fairway construction had broken historic farm field drain tiles, causing flooding and drainage of adjacent wetlands. The situation burgeoned into a dispute with the EPA. Imagery was used to help resolve the dilemma and avoid potential fines for unplanned wetland damages.

Can an airplane flying low and slow, shooting high-resolution, multispectral imagery, help with planning and managing cities, parks and golf courses?

"Every day we realize more landscape management applications of aerial imagery," says Steve Apfelbaum, founder and principal ecologist at Applied Ecological Services.

This military-originated aerial imagery technology detects objects as small as 9-12 inches in diameter. The "multispectral" aspect of the Leica RCD30 camera refers to the red, green, blue and near-infrared spectral bands the camera is able to image.

The near-infrared band allows the formation of spectral signatures, characterizing vegetation types (and other land surfaces) by how they reflect and absorb light. This information can also be correlated with such attributes as plant stress and health, seasonal growth phases and long-term ecological changes, allowing a manager to remotely evaluate vegetation over large areas efficiently and cost effectively.

An average 200-acre golf course can be shot in a half hour or less. Depending on the level of analysis needed, results can be available within days, to a couple of weeks.

In northern Illinois, old agricultural drain tile lines were contributing to poorly drainage, failing lawns and tree disease at a national historic site and adjacent golf course. Aerial imagery was used to provide early detection and mapping of tree stress. Linked to on-the-ground identification of a fungal disease, the landscape managers of both facilities were able to take prompt corrective actions and forestall a greater calamity.

One Illinois golf course used aerial imagery to detect lawn areas that were over or under-fertilized, allowing for better targeted applications of expensive fertilizers. Encroachments of weedy invasive plant species were also mapped, allowing grounds managers to selectively focus the use of herbicides. Such targeted chemical applications save money and lessen contaminants in runoff.

The imaging can also show where wildlife is damaging large landscapes.

A golf course owned by the University of Illinois, located adjacent the university's Willard Airport, was able to make imagery do double duty. The same imagery that helped the airport understand how to manage vegetation to minimize wildlife hazards was also used by their neighbor, the golf course. Together they created compatible and coordinated land management plans tot minimize wildlife damage.

Aerial imagery is also useful to map the effects of rainstorms, including detecting failing storm water sewers and damaged drainage pipes.

Imagery, combined with field measurements, can also ascertain if the property is increasing pollution in the watershed.

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September 22, 2019, 12:02 am PDT

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